U.S. might lift ban on gay blood donors
FDA favours new policy barring donations from men who have had gay sex in the previous year
U.S. health officials are recommending an end to America’s lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, a 31-year-old policy that many medical groups and gay activists say is no longer justified.
The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it favours replacing the blanket ban with a new policy barring donations from men who have had gay sex in the previous year. FDA officials said that policy is supported by research and would put the U.S. in line with other countries including Australia, Japan and Britain.
The lifetime ban dates from the early years of the AIDS crisis and was intended to protect the blood supply from what was a then little-understood disease. But many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, say the policy is no longer supported by science, given advances in HIV testing. Gay activists say the lifetime ban is discriminatory and perpetuates negative stereotypes of homosexual men.
The agency will recommend the switch in draft guidelines early next year and move to finalize them after taking comments from the public, said FDA officials. FDA Deputy Director Dr. Peter Parks declined to give a time frame for completing the process but said, “we commit to working as quickly as possible on this issue.”
All blood donations are screened for HIV; however, the test only detects the virus after it’s been in the bloodstream about 10 days. That allows a brief window when the virus that causes AIDS can go undetected. According to government figures, men who have had sex with other men repre- sent about two per cent of the U.S. population, yet account for at least 62 per cent of all new HIV infections in the U.S.
Tuesday’s announcement is the culmination of years of government discussions reexamining the ban. Last month a panel of blood safety experts convened by Department of Health and Human Services voted 16-2 in favour of doing away with the lifetime ban. The panel recommended moving to a one-year ban, which bars donors who have had male-onmale sex during the previous 12 months.
Some gay activists said Tuesday that policy remains unrealistic and will still stigmatize gay and bisexual men.
“Some may believe this is a step forward, but in reality, requiring celibacy for a year is a de facto lifetime ban,” the organization Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York-based nonprofit that supports AIDS prevention and care, said after the announcement.